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Pixel art is going to be big for me in 2019. Just before Christmas, I was snapped up to work on a game firmly rooted in this retro aesthetic. My role there is mostly to create individual likenesses for the cast, but I thought it would be beneficial to take a step back and, in my free time, look at some broader arenas. Hopefully, I’ll pick up a few tricks along the way.

With the pylons going up on Sunday, I thought a general industrial theme was a good place to begin. The quick pipe lettering above was not only an excuse for more letters but a warm-up tiling exercise. Tiling allows for quick and clean creation of environments. Most platform games of old used this technique for their scenery.

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These crates and barrels were mostly studying texture and dithering.

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You can’t spell industrial without corrugated iron:

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If I’ve learnt one thing from my work so far, it’s that size really doesn’t matter. Working on a small grid of pixels can be just as time-consuming as the most detailed sketch – sometimes more so, as I start to panic about the sharpness of certain edges, the pallette, and whether I should introduce more colours or even reduce them. Hopefully these are the sort of hurdles that will be overcome with just making as much stuff as possible. Saying this about time, perhaps the two industrial stations below could have done with a little more TLC, but it’s a start:

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pixelpractise-industrial04Once the pixels start to look happy (and like things) it’s quite a lot of fun, and the time whizzes by. Like the web address says, onward I go!

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There isn’t really much of a rationale behind this – I just fancied constructing an electricity pylon for some reason. Who am I to argue?

I know pylons are considered by many to be a monstrous blot on the landscape. The view would be cleaner without them, of course, but, like many industrial structures, I can appreciate their presence. They’ve always possessed a strange personality to me. I’m wondering if this is rooted in an old advertisement from when I was very little, which showed pylons coming to life and striding across the landscape toward the sea, heralding the bright future of cleaner, more efficient energy generation. When I’d seen enough times to no longer be slightly creeped out, I enjoyed it.

pylon-081One of the nice things about creating a rather simple model like this is it means I can happy snap without ever leaving the house, and manipulate the weather as required. This was an excuse to focus on the latter:

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As the sun sets, let’s hope these pylons don’t go walkabout any time soon.

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Honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken as long as it has to come back to this. Here we are now, three years younger and hopefully three years more experienced than my last play with the Channel 4 blocks.

There really is something special about those original Lambie-Nairn idents; there’s the inspirational and nostalgic element, of course, but I think that does them a disservice in some ways. Despite being renders from almost forty years ago now, they still look fantastic and most definitely hold up as a symbol of what Channel 4 was meant to be. When it comes to my favourite TV presentation, they’re a front-runner, just ahead of the BBC balloon from 1997 which, incidentally, was another Lambie-Nairn creation.

I started playing with the Interlock sequence above, which was actually relatively simple, only taking an hour or so once I figured out how to group the various sectors.

Above and below were inspired by the Explosion and Around and Back idents, though I didn’t go for a straight recreation this time, instead trying to give them an original routine. This was much harder to crack without clipping or just looking entirely inelegant, but thankfully anchoring each block to a circular spline made things easier, and I probably could make a total recreation with that knowledge.

This was when I started throwing unnecessary extras at the blocks, such as volumetric lighting, but they make for some interesting stills. There’s also a frosty 4 there, because it’s nearly Christmas, in case you didn’t know.

Throwing a transparency channel onto the blocks made for some pleasing jewel effects, especially with a faint glow. Not quite so nice fully-formed, however, which I suppose is quite important:

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Taking the easy way out, I removed the front face of the blocks and put some fairy lights inside, with a floor to take illumination. Perhaps more disco than Christmas, but never mind – the music is festive, so of course it now works perfectly. As it turns out, C4 did similar to far greater effect last year for their Christmas presentation, but oh well.

I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to do 3D lately, so these have proven the perfect exercise – all relatively quick and never throttling my PC like other projects. Let’s see how we get on with the blocks in 2021, eh.

electric-recharged-2-02I’ve been in a typographic mood of late – even more than usual. It’s most welcome. Even so, this was a bit of an impromptu jolly; I was playing with a face I cut several years ago now, long before the days of this blog. It was called Electric, and this is shown in orange above. Inspiration came from the frontage of a rusty, run-down electrical shop in Norwich; it bore lettering of a slender form with enormous, authoritative slabs – delightfully retro-futuristic and, as such, most appropriate for a store likely still selling VCRs and 8-track. Them’s the future.

The blue counterparts were made this evening – essentially, I was curious to see what would happen if I were to reverse the thickness of each character, across the entire alphabet. It does look rather more burly, doesn’t it? Some letters were scuppered slightly – particularly Q – but overall it seems a worthy companion.

It’s quite fun using the two in combination.

The simplicity of both faces means you can do virtually anything with them. They can be warped, scaled, squashed, or pulled however you want, and still look pretty stable. Such versatility can come in handy when you have a specific message in mind.

I did also experiment with Illustrator’s ’rounded corners’ feature, which somehow managed to make the lettering even more delightfully retro:

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Ah well, nothing spectacular but just a bit of fun. I’ve been so woefully unproductive this year, I’m going to jump on any burst of inspiration that I can!

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Who needs rationale when it comes to making letters? I certainly don’t! The most fun lettering exercises, as I doubtless say every time (sorry) are the ones where you just run with something and see where it goes – it’s all about that iterative process, as one wonderful man always used to say.

And so, eyeing a coat hanger and seeing that its lines and curves could easily be bent into several letterforms spiralled into a afternoon of work. That’s an achievement in itself at the moment, regardless of the result. Thank you, coat hanger – potential there was! I ended up with a veritable wardrobe full of alternatives:

The process, there. Having sliced those up in Photoshop and Illustrator, they were a bit rough and ready, so I had a go at refining some of the stronger ones. Among my favourites are probably the M, W and E, who came out of the closet looking quite bold and trendy. I did enjoy using the hook for slimmer, twisty forms too, though, as you can probably tell.

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Well, it gave me something to do with my Sunday! I wonder if there are other objects lying around that I can subject to similar experimentation…

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It’s happened. I never expected it to. I have a new favourite wrestler – or rather, I have a favourite new wrestler. What is this? Well, I say ‘new’, but the adorable Jervis Cottonbelly has actually been teaching his opponents some manners for several years. Ever the gentleman, he characteristically trades the strikes and slams for hugs, tickles, and light-hearted trickery. This chap is the epitome of wrestling theatricality.

My first Cottonbelly experience was actually a couple of years back, when he was a guest on a Twitch live-stream I was watching. I wasn’t convinced at the time, but he was memorable, that’s for sure, and curiosity was there. Recently, I read about his mental health issues, and gained real admiration for him using the character to share his own experience whilst also allowing the sunniness of Jervis to brighten the day for others. It certainly worked for me; it’s been a low couple of weeks, but just a few minutes of his motivational speech (and mean ukulele) at least had me creating again. Thanks so much, Jervy!

A fun, lovable character with what seems like a genuinely sweet guy behind it, I wish Gentleman Jervis nothing but success.

Obviously, there was no contest for subject here. I originally went for a vanilla portrait, but ended up turning him into some kind of desktop wallpaper. How very 1990s of me. Hopefully, the fuzzy cocktail of violets, daisies and tie-dye possesses both the pleasantness and razzmatazz that so exudes Mr. Cottonbelly.

Part two of this mini anime adventure – this time, a Twitch panel show, making acquaintance with a curious quartet in the process.

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Firstly, we have Kagetane Hiruko from Black Bullet acting as YouTube ambassador. As one might expect, given the smiley face and sharp attire, he’s a villain – the boss, in fact. He is a soulless mastermind, acting entirely without remorse and getting a twisted kick from ruining the lives of others. Nice guy.

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Amaimon, from Blue Exorcist, who looks like me, apparently. Pff. I’m not nearly so smiley. Saying this, I took some liberties and cheered him up somewhat – I thought this rather cute glance might bring a persuasive pull to the donation field! It would seem that Amaimon is, as the name would suggest, a demonic force to be reckoned with, since he has the title ‘Earth King’ bestowed upon him. He has a warped sense of humour, and doesn’t react kindly to his fun being ruined. His host is, in fact, over a thousand years old. Yes, I’m beginning to see a resemblance now.

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Representing Discord, we have Rentaro, a protagonist of Black Bullet. Juggling high school and a role in Civil Security, Rentaro is a loving boy who endeavours to treat everyone as equals. Rentaro is an intelligent, agile and resilient fighter, such that even the most fearsome hoodlum underestimates him at their own peril. Oh, and he has a gun if all else fails.

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Finally, we have Ken Kaneki, the main protagonist of the Tokyo Ghoul series. Formerly a gifted student living a relatively normal life, things changed dramatically for Ken when his manipulative hellcat of a girlfriend turned him into the one-eyed ghoul you see here, using elaborate surgical magic. Well, we’ve all been there.

Once the drawings were complete, it was simply a case of bundling them into the specified dimensions of Twitch panels (320x320px). I ran with colour coding almost straight away, and tried to design around that. Here are a few developments that didn’t quite meet the grade for Mr Sekioz, along with some others which I felt worked moderately well in isolation, but not so well transferred to stablemates.

These were completed today, hopefully the finals will be live on Sekioz’s Twitch soon.